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Minister Oboth Oboth

UPDF Does not Operate any Safe Houses in the Country, Says Defence Minister

by KP
posted onMay 10, 2022

Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) does not operate any safe houses in the country, the Minister of State for Defence Jacob Oboth Oboth has said.

Oboth said this while appearing before the Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday. He requested MPs to furnish his office with any information regarding the existence of safe houses for further investigation.

“I have heard issues of safe houses even before I became minister of defence and my response is that we do not operate any safe houses and this committee can help us identify if there are people who are operating safe houses and are allegedly doing it on behalf of UPDF,” Oboth said. Oboth was leading a team of UPDF Generals before the Committee chaired by Hon Fox Odoi, to respond to allegations of human rights violations in the country. The Committee that is currently investigating allegations of human rights abuse by security forces had sought a response from the Ministry of Defence and Veteran Affairs (MoDVA) on the number of safe houses and their locations.

The committee MPs asked the minister to take the issue of safe houses as a serious matter for investigations.

“I think the minister is just dodging the question of safe houses because I am sure there is a department for investigations in the UPDF and the issue of safe houses has been raised by Ugandans. It is unfair to tell us (MPs) to look for these safe houses. The UPDF should investigate and come up with a report,” Nakaseke County MP Allan Mayanja said.

Nwoya East MP Geoffrey Charles Okello said there is likelihood that these safe houses are being manned by the investigative arm of the security forces and that MPs’ efforts to locate them could turn futile.

“The response from the minister on safe houses does not mean that they do not exist, perhaps they are operated by the investigative arm of the military or police and other security forces. So even if we struggle to find out where they are, we are less likely to break through since the investigators are the ones operating them, so this is something that requires more investigations,” Okello said.

The chairperson of the committee on human rights, Hon Fox Odoi said that there is some progress in respect of the existence of safe houses following a recent report from Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), a body that serves to monitor and advance human rights in Uganda.

“Uganda Human Rights Commission reported to us that all previous safe houses were closed and we still have not come up with any known locations of a safe house. So it wouldn’t be fair to insist that the minister gives us a list yet even UHRC says they were all closed,” Odoi said.

This is not the first time Parliament is investigating allegations of human rights abuse in relation to the existence of illegal detention centers commonly referred to as safe houses.

In 2019, the then Minister of Security, Gen Elly Tumwine acknowledged the existence of safe houses in different locations where operations deem them fit to fulfill their purpose and functions as provided in the Security Organisations Act Cap 305 of 1987. Tumwine told the committee that “safe houses are there to coordinate clandestine intelligence information and to secure and protect witnesses in danger, especially criminals who have turned into witnesses.”

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